Reading the Chancellor’s Two Letters: The Facebook Update I Wrote For Weary Friends

Dear friends and family, I’m really sorry to keep talking about UC Berkeley, but my friends and students and professors have been beaten or arrested or both, so it’s hard to think about much else. Since I have a little insider info, I feel like I should do what I can to let others know what’s happening. Feel free to “Hide” me if these are getting annoying. I totally understand.

Anyway, here’s the latest: Our Chancellor just sent us, the campus community, a second letter. Chancellor Birgeneau, who condemned students linking arms as “not nonviolent” and approved of police beating faculty and students, has just issued a second statement in which he admits that he was traveling last week, and was only just now “able” to watch the videos of his students and faculty being beaten. (There is evidently no internet in Asia, or in airports.)

Faced with footage of his directer of the Townsend Center for the Humanities being yanked forward by her hair onto the ground and cuffed (or of a 70-year old Pulitzer-Prize winning poet being “nudged” by police batons), he has the grace to admit that these incidents are indeed “disturbing.”

In that first letter (which is becoming legendary for its wrongheadedness), he not only condemned the students and faculty whose beatings he authorized, but also had the audacity to lecture them on “nonviolence” without so much as bothering to watch the footage that was shocking Americans at home. I can’t understand this as anything other than criminally negligent.

This second letter, coming hard on the heels of the first, and quite different in tone, is pretty clear evidence of two things:

1) His office has been flooded with phone calls and letters from shocked onlookers, many of whom are calling for his resignation.

2) He’s lying. He claims UCPD Chief of Police Celaya is “investigating” his officers for misconduct; in fact, Celaya has openly admitted (in SFGate!) his tentative plans to escalate violence against protesters, adding tear gas and pepper spray to batons. (I’ve posted a link to that article on my profile, if you’re interested.)

I want to emphasize that the UCPD reports to the Chancellor. The Chancellor is absolutely aware of these plans (unless he neglects to read the newspaper too), which will go into effect tomorrow, and approves of them. This second letter, with its admission of ignorance, is a repugnant display of duplicity and bad faith.

There’s nothing for it. Tomorrow, for the first time in my sheltered life, I have to face the possibility that I might be tear-gassed or arrested on my Chancellor’s orders, along with lots and lots of of my faculty, my students and my friends. I hope he rethinks this. I don’t want any of those things to happen. I’m scared. But if the day takes that turn, I’d like for anyone who bothered to read this far in this ridiculously long status update to understand why. It won’t be because the police acted on their own, it won’t be a case of crazy cops gone wild, and I promise it won’t be because I was violent or even disrespectful. It won’t be a “mistake” that everyone can calmly investigate later. It will be because my Chancellor decided it was the right thing to do and told the police to do it.

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